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Here Comes Everybody – Publish Then Filter

March 9, 2012

(One in a series of posts about Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations.)

…(P)ublishing and broadcasting cost money.  Any cost creates some sort of barrier, and the high cost of most traditional media creates high barriers….  Simply to remain viable, anyone producing traditional media has to decide what to produce and what not to; the good work has to be sorted from the mediocre in advance of publication.  Since the basic economics of publishing puts a cap on the overall volume of content, it also forces every publisher or producer to filter the material in advance.

But, Clay Shirky contends in Here Comes Everybody:  The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations, the internet and the “new social tools” are so radically different from previous publishing and production tools (think: printing presses, television stations, movie studios) that the old formula of “Filter, then publish” is now turned upside down—or better, inside out—“Publish, then filter“.

Take this blog post for example.  Thirty years ago it would have been in a newsletter or magazine (perhaps in a book review section).  Because of the publishing expenses (editors, typesetters, printing presses, delivery trucks, newsstands, postage, etc.), the publisher’s first decision would be whether to print the essay at all.

Today, the only expense is a few minutes of my time.  When I’m done writing, I’ll take a couple of minutes to check the spelling, make some minor editorial changes, and then I’ll click the “Publish” button.  Seconds later it’s available to an audience of (potentially) millions.  Even if it’s “only” an audience of dozens, the cost of producing the essay is so low that it’s much more likely to be worth my time than it would be if I was using a typewriter, a mimeograph (young folks, ask your elders), addressing envelopes and licking stamps (yep, in the old days you had to moisten the glue individually for each stamp—hard times, I tell you).

So, whereas the “Filter” function was/is professional with older media (that’s what magazine editors and television producers still get paid to do), the new social tools have created a mass amateurization of both publishing and filtering.  Now almost anyone can be a creator/publisher; and the function of filtering the “good” from the “bad” happens socially as well.  That’s what “going viral” is—whether it’s YouTube videos of musical cats or calls for advertisers to boycott the Rush Limbaugh show—a collective “filtering” decision that something (musical cat videos, advertiser boycotts) is “good”.  As Shirky says, “we are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race.”  The barrier between producers and consumers, professionals and amateurs, has been—if not eliminated—so drastically lowered that it is revolutionizing our society just as the printing press revolutionized medieval Europe.

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From → Books, History, Politics

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